Sunday 15 December 2019

Feud reaches tipping point in very public clash of egos

The Couch

Almost five years on from the car crash which precipitated his fall from grace, Tiger Woods looks to have committed another major PR blunder with his attack on veteran journalist Dan Jenkins. Photo credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.
Almost five years on from the car crash which precipitated his fall from grace, Tiger Woods looks to have committed another major PR blunder with his attack on veteran journalist Dan Jenkins. Photo credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

Tommy Conlon

Whatever else he has done, Dan Jenkins has surely seen to it that any waitress who ever serves Tiger Woods henceforth will be quids in when she picks up the billfold off his table.

Rather than receiving just an invitation back to his hotel suite for cocktails, she'll be getting a thick wedge of dollars for her evening's service. Jenkins is the veteran American sportswriter who has written a spoof interview with Woods for the December issue of Golf Digest magazine.

The article provoked Woods and his agent Mark Steinberg into publicly rebuking Jenkins last week. Steinberg wrote a letter to the CEO of Conde Nast, the magazine's parent company, demanding an apology, while Woods described it in a statement as "a grudge-fuelled piece of character assassination."

In his letter, Steinberg helpfully sums up the list of alleged slanders against his client in the offending piece. Jenkins, he claims, suggests that Tiger "has contempt for tipping, enjoys firing employees, is unable to make business decisions, isn't smart, disregards his friends, and is personally dishonest." It's a fair old shopping list alright.

Jenkins is widely regarded as the doyen of golf writers in America. Aged 84, he has covered more than 200 Major championships; in 2011 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. In The New York Times on Friday, golf writer Karen Crouse paid due homage. "Jenkins," she said, "wrote as memorably about golf's characters in the last half of the 20th century as Mark Twain did about the characters he came across in the last half of the 19th."

It was, apparently, a rite of passage for any emerging golf star to do a sit-down interview with Jenkins, not unlike, back in the day, an Irish rugby player doing the ritual interview with Edmund Van Esbeck in The Irish Times on the occasion of his first international cap.

When Jenkins approached Steinberg years ago looking for the same set piece with Tiger, Steinberg declined with the words, "We have nothing to gain." Jenkins, say the Woods camp, has never forgiven them. He "has long held a personal hostility to Mr Woods," wrote Steinberg to Conde Nast, "a fact that is common knowledge in golf journalism."

And indeed, when news of Tiger's prodigious philandering broke ground in December 2009, Jenkins didn't spare the horses. Woods, he wrote then, was "spoiled, pampered, hidden, guarded, orchestrated and entitled." The superstar had passed himself off as "the All-American Daddy-Pop Father of the Year", only to be unmasked as a "silicone collector" with 14 Majors and "14 casting couches, most of them reserved for blondes."

So, yes, there was a bit of form there, and that article wouldn't have gone unnoticed by Steinberg, Woods' famously zealous svengali.

And as Crouse noted in her piece on Friday, it's feasible that Steinberg was every bit as outraged as Woods by the mock interview in Golf Digest. In it, Jenkins answers the questions as well as asking them. And he satirises unmercifully Tiger's relationship with 'Steiny'.

For example: "Why did you turn down previous interview requests with me?" Tiger (as imagined by Jenkins): "Like Steiny said: We had nothing to gain." "So why now?" "Steiny says we have to rebuild my brand . . . I just do what Steiny says." "Why haven't you fired Steiny, by the way? You've fired everybody else." "I'll probably get round to it. I like to fire people. It gives me something to do when I'm not shaping my shots."

It is not the sharpest piece of satire ever committed to print. Some of Jenkins' questions are more vindictive than clever. And he takes an unseemly pleasure in pointing out to his imaginary subject that he (Woods) will struggle to win further Majors now that he's approaching his 39th birthday. There is also the sense too that in his worshipping of former giants like Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus, Jenkins is living in a golden past when he, and they, were young and brilliant.

Neither he nor Woods emerge with much honour from this very public clash of egos. And it goes without saying that Woods and his team made a cardinal error by responding to the article at all. It was already a week old when they did respond and had generated little or no traction by then. Suddenly it was being discussed on TV and radio sports shows all over America, and a magazine which by all accounts had become a marginal publication was now on the radar of everyone with a passing interest in golf, or Woods.

But still, it's hard not to have a sneaking admiration for someone who has obviously kept the fire alive at the age of 84. And Jenkins, like we say, has surely shamed Tiger into cracking his wallet open in restaurants.

"You've become famous for being a bad tipper," he suggests to the great man at one point of their imaginary interview. "I just don't understand," replies 'Tiger', "why you're supposed to tip people for doing a job they're already getting paid to do."

Waiter! Bill please.

Woods is currently recovering from the latest back problem that has plagued his career in recent years.

Jenkins, in fairness, was much more generous when he wrote, in 2001, that Woods was "a truly remarkable athlete. Something the game has never seen." And he was chillingly prescient when he added that "only two things" could stop Tiger: "injury or a bad marriage."

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